Spoilers for Breaking Bad and El Camino are contained within this review
The tale of Walter White’s corruption is rightly regarded as one of the all-time great television stories. The beautiful cinematography, fully developed characters and meticulously paced plots are a lavish treat for TV buffs, and it is a rare gem that ended on a high note.
Alongside Bryan Cranston’s lead, Aaron Paul’s portayal of Jesse Pinkman’s parallel, intertwined tumble from innocence earned him wide awards and plaudits, and as news of the existence of a Pinkman-focused Breaking Bad long-player emerged, his iconic escape from his neo-Nazi prison came back into focus. All that was really known in advance was that it would have to pick up sometime after the events of Felina, and the expectations were understandably sky high.
“Sometime after” Breaking Bad’s dramatic and brilliant ending turns out to be a few seconds after. El Camino starts right where Felina finished and tracks Jesse’s next 48 hours as he tries to evade police long enough to escape to a new life. The ever-endearing Badger and Skinny Pete provide Jesse safe haven and the means to get started on his way, but a great cameo from Old Joe shows that it might not be straightforward (as with all great Breaking Bad moments).
Jesse’s movements are interspersed with flashbacks to relevant moments on the Breaking Bad timeline; conversations with Mike and Walter frame Jesse’s motivations and goals at various points, and flashbacks with the calm, childishly maniacal Todd (played by an ever-convincing Jesse Plemons) feature heavily in El Camino. We learn that he’s hidden his money “close” in his apartment (apparently very securely after his now ex-Housekeeper stumbled across it a few months back).
The fight over his stash of orphaned cash becomes the central plot vehicle; associates of “Uncle Jack”, Neil (Scott MacArthur) and Casey (Scott Shepherd) are after the money too, becoming antagonists to Jesse’s final sprint for catharthis.
Their impersonation of police officers at Todd’s house limits Jesse’s ransacking attempt, leaving him shy of the total needed by disappearer Ed Galbraith (played by the now sadly departed Robert Forster) and desperate for a way forward.
Jesse decides to lure his long-suffering parents out of their house with a “turning-myself-in” ruse, acquiring a pair of guns and setting about Plan B – getting some of the money that he’d just about managed to split with Neil and Casey.
From here, El Camino crescendos to a mexican stand off. Jesse ask Neil and Casey for the £1800 dollars he is short at their garage, and (as with all good villians) they let their egos and greed get the better of them and end up paying the price. Jesse kills both, and proceeds to annihiliate the closest thing to his White Supremacist prison he can find, before he walks away with enough cash to leave forever.
Such is the legacy of Breaking Bad) that the expectations for El Caminowere sky high, and many may have preferred something more akin to a standalone story to an epilogue hidden in a “Get Out Of Dodge” western.
The “give ’em what they want” approach hasn’t ever really been Vince Gilligan’s style, however. El Camino started life as a 10 year anniversary short film, and blossomed into a satisfying victory lap – if you’re looking at it in the right light.